Novel tells young man’s coming-of-age story
A real-life event inspired Charles Rice-Gonzalez to write his debut novel, Chulito, a coming-of-age and coming out queer love story set in Hunts Point.
“Chulito”, published in October, grew from the memory of a day in the late 1990s, when Rice-Gonzalez sat looking out onto the Grand Concourse from the steps of the Bronx County Courthouse. He watched as two teenagers taunted a boy named Manny for being gay. As Manny trailed behind them, pleading that he was straight, Rice-Gonzalez thought: Suppose Manny really was gay?
Chulito, the title character, is Manny re-imagined as a street-smart, tough, young Latino in denial about his sexuality who prefers to spend most of his time with the neighborhood toughs on the corner of Garrison and Hunts Point avenues.
Carlos, his one-time best friend, is Chulito’s opposite. A freshman at Adelphi University, he is smart and studious and avoids the street corner. Openly gay in a neighborhood where his peers constantly ridicule him, Carlos is defiant in the face of the macho outlook that keeps them from accepting him.
Carlos is the person Chulito wants to be but lacks the courage to become.
For Rice-Gonzalez, who lived in Hunts Point for 12 years, using the neighborhood as the setting for his book was a natural choice. By writing “Chulito”, the author says, he wanted to capture the vibrancy and energy of the area, where for years he has worked to foster artists and arts organizations, especially BAAD, the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, which has made its home in the BankNote building on Barretto Street since 1998.
Rice-Gonzalez founded BAAD with dancer and choreographer, Arthur Aviles, the company’s creative director. Rice-Gonzalez is also chairman of the board of the Bronx Council on the Arts, and as owner of Rice-Gonzalez Public Relations, represents many arts and theater organizations in the borough. He has long been prominent as a community and LGBT activist.
According to Paul Lipson, who as one of the founders of The Point Community Development Corp. helped make the BankNote building a haven for artists, including BAAD, Rice-Gonzalez “is emblematic of the resurgence taking place in Hunts Point.”
Aviles, Rice-Gonzalez’ long-time collaborator, sees “Chulito” as a work that “gives dignity to a place that has suffered from a very difficult reputation while adding to the kind of positive work that has been going on in Hunts Point for the last 15 years.”
Rice-Gonzalez says he’s always used writing as an outlet for his feelings. At 13, he wrote his first novel after he experienced his first heartbreak, and at 16, completed his first play. But it was BAAD, he says, that first offered him the support he needed to become a full-fledged writer.
The company has produced several of his works, including the plays “Pink Jesus” and “Los Nutcrackers: A Christmas Carajo.” He credits the encouragement he received from his BAAD family with helping him to complete “Chulito” last spring.
Three years ago, Rice-Gonzalez received an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, where he wrote a sequel to “Chulito” titled “Hunts Point.” In fiction he found himself able to imagine possibility, he says, to write what could be and what can happen.
He doesn’t know anyone like Chulito or like Carlos, he says, but adds that people like them could be living in the neighborhood. Rice-Gonzalez calls the world of his novel “a world that is true enough,” one that portrays the options that could be open to young, queer Latinos living in the South Bronx.
His hope is that “Chulito” will “empower the LGBT community that lives and loves in ghettos to see themselves as viable and vibrant components of the community.”
The book had its debut on October 11–National Coming Out Day–at a Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side. All 150 copies of the book at the store that day were sold out. “Chulito” will be available for purchase through Amazon.com and at local Barnes & Noble stores and Bluestocking Books.